Is Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome Real?
Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome- have you heard of it? I hadn’t, until I read Reba Riley’s post on Patheos describing her own struggle and eventual self-diagnosis of this spiritual condition. What is PTCS?
According to Reba, PTCS is “a severe, negative — almost allergic — reaction to inflexible doctrine, outright abuse of spiritual power, dogma and (often) praise bands and preachers.” She lists both emotional and physical symptoms, such as withdrawal from all things religious, failure to believe in anything, depression, anxiety, loss or desire to walk into a place of worship. Physically, sufferers of PTCS may have sweats, nausea, heart palpitations—as she notes, “the symptoms are as varied as the people who suffer them.”
In her article, Why I Stopped Going to Church, Jennifer Maggio echoes these ideas. She felt judgment from her Christian community after having two children outside marriage, and the pain she felt drove her away. She writes:
“My excuses were many:
The church is full of hypocrites.
I don’t fit in. There’s no one else like me.
I have a close relationship with God and don’t need church.
I study the Bible on my own at home.
The church will judge me.
The longer I stayed away from church, the easier it was for me to continue to do so. And the truth is, my journey back into God’s house was a long, hard one. It was only after examining my life at a very dark and lonely time that I made the decision to return. Even then, the urge to withdraw was strong.”
Eventually, Jennifer did make her way back to the Church and now has a thriving ministry for single mothers.
So, what should you do if you think you suffer from PTCS? I appreciate Thabiti Anyabwile’s thoughts in his article, Should We Stop Saying, ‘The Church Hurt Me’? He counsels those who have been hurt in the church to remember that it is sinful, flawed people who have hurt them, and to not give up on God and his plan for the Church. He writes, “Do realize that not every church hurt you and people are not “all the same.” Find a local church you can join. Start slow if you need to. But let the Lord’s manifold grace come to you in the fellowship of His people. That’s normally how He comforts us in our trouble and pain (2 Cor. 1:3-5).”
Reba Riley is hoping that the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: the primary text used by doctors to diagnose psychological conditions) will officially pick up her idea and recognize it in the latest addition. Do you think PTCS should be a recognized disorder?
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.
Publication Date: March 7, 2014.
Editor's Note: An earlier publication noted Deborah Arca as the author of the Patheos article, which was incorrect. Reba Riley is the author, and you can read more about her at http://thirtybythirty.com.